Thursday, 12 April 2018

5e: Six Fire-Themed Spells

Today I present 6 new spells themed around the fire type!

The spells described below belong on the following class spell lists:

Class Spell Lists

Bard Cleric Druid Paladin Ranger Sorcerer Warlock Wizard

Cantrips

Combustible Cones
Combustible Cones
Combustible Cones

3rd-Level

Comforting Ember
Comforting Ember
Comforting Ember
Comforting Ember
Comforting Ember
Fire Flower
Fire Flower
Comforting Ember, Fire Flower

4th-Level

Leaping Flame
Leaping Flame, Scorching Corona
Leaping Flame, Scorching Corona

5th-Level

Flashfire
Flashfire
Flashfire


Stock Art © Brian Brinlee.


Combustible Cones

Transmutation cantrip | Classes: Druid, Ranger, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 minute

You touch one to three cones from a conifer tree, imbuing them with explosive heat. You or someone else can make a ranged spell attack with one of the combustible cones by throwing it or hurling it with a sling. If thrown, it has a range of 60 feet. If someone else attacks with the cone, that attacker adds your spellcasting ability modifier, not the attacker’s, to the attack roll.

On a hit, the target takes fire damage equal to 1d4 + your spellcasting ability modifier as the cone explodes on impact. If the target is not resistant or immune to fire, they are also set alight. While aflame, a creature takes 1 fire damage at the beginning of each of its turns until the fire goes out. The creature may make a Dexterity saving throw at the end of each of its turns to put out the fire. Alternatively, the fire can be put out automatically at the cost of the target's action or the action of another creature.

Whether the cone hits or misses, the spell then ends on the cone.

If you cast this spell again, the spell ends early on any cones still affected by it.

Comforting Ember

3rd-level evocation | Classes: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (sunstone dust worth 100 gp which the spell consumes)
Duration: Until dispelled

You cause a coal, rock, or gemstone you touch to turn into a glowing ember. The ember gives off dim light out to 20 feet. It is warm to the touch and all creatures within the ember's light feel a cozy warmth whenever the ambient temperature is not already warmer.

For every twenty minutes of an hour that a creature spends in the warmth of the comforting flame while in an environment of extreme cold, the DC of that hour's Constitution saving throw against exhaustion is reduced by 3. If they spend the whole hour within the radius of the flame's warmth, the creature automatically succeeds.

When a creature completes a long rest while within 20 feet of the ember, for the next 8 hours it treats any Hit Die result of 1 or 2 as though it had rolled a 3.

If the magic of the comforting ember is dispelled, such as when it enters an area of antimagic, the ember crumbles into dust.

Fire Flower

3rd-level evocation | Classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (30 feet)
Components: V, S, M (a piece of charcoal, the pressed petals of a fraxinella flower)
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)

Lines of crisscrossing flame draw a flat geometric flower design in the air around you. It rapidly spins outward, growing until it fills a 5-foot-tall, 30-foot radius cylinder centered on you. The geometric pattern is denser closer to you, and harder to avoid.

The flower is divided into three concentric rings:
  • 0-5 feet from you is the inner ring, the part of the pattern where a real flower's carpels would be.
  • 6-15 feet is the middle ring, the part of the pattern where a real flower's stamens would be.
  • 16-30 feet is the outer ring, the part of the pattern where a real flower's petals would be.

A creature that enters or starts its turn in one of the rings must make a Dexterity saving throw, taking fire damage dependent on the ring on a failed save, or half that on a success.

Fire Flower Rings and Damage

Ring Fire
Damage
0-5 feet (Inner)
3d8
6-15 feet (Middle)
2d8
16-30 feet (Outer)
1d8


A creature only makes a saving throw against this spell once on each of its turns. If before its next turn begins the creature subsequently moves to a more central ring of the fire flower than the one it was in at the time it made the save, it takes an additional 1d8 fire damage but halves that damage if its most recent saving throw was a success. In other words, a creature takes appropriate damage for the ring its movement ends in before the beginning of its next turn, even when it was in a less central ring when it made its save.

A creature does not take additional damage if moving outward through the rings, as it has already taken appropriate damage for the worst ring it occupied during this round.

For instance, if a creature enters the outer ring of your fire flower and fails its saving throw it immediately take 1d8 fire damage. If the creature continues moving towards you it takes an additional 1d8 fire damage as soon as it crossed into the middle ring, and a third 1d8 fire damage if its movement ends adjacent to you, as that brings it into the inner ring.


Stock Art © Brett Neufeld.

Flashfire

5th-level evocation | Classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (ashes of a dozen different burned plants mixed with the dust of a fire opal)
Duration: Instantaneous

A wall of flame appears on the ground within range, then roars across the earth consuming everything in its path in seconds. The initial size of the wall of 10-foot tall, 15-foot wide, and 5 foot deep, and it must completely manifest within the spell's range. The wall then moves rapidly forward 40 feet, treating either of its wide faces as its "front", before disappearing.

Any creature touched by the flashfire before it disappears must make a Dexterity saving throw, taking 8d6 fire damage on a failed saving throw, or half that much on a success.

Leaping Flame

4th-level evocation | Classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S, M (a scorched wooden charm in the shape of a leaping hart, a strip of bark from a pyrophyte)
Duration: Instantaneous

You create a handful of flame that you hurl toward a target that you can see within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 7d6 fire damage. The flame can then leap to as many as three additional targets one after another, each of which must be no more than 30 feet from the previous target. Compare your initial ranged spell attack roll against the AC of each target. If the leaping flame misses one of its targets, the spell ends immediately.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 4th.

Scorching Corona

4th-level evocation | Classes: Warlock, Wizard

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a piece of cinnabar, a small burnt stick)
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)

You summon an aura of flame that encompasses the body of a target you can see within range. The target must make a Dexterity saving throw, taking 4d8 fire damage on a failed save or half that on a success. On a failed save, the target is also surrounded by the scorching corona. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your subsequent turns to cause the target to take 2d8 fire damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the initial and bonus action damage both increase by 1d8 for each slot level above 4th.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Fifth Edition Fallout News: King's Ransom announced!

A few weeks back when I announced my own stream, The Hunt For Spring-Heeled Jack, I teased another upcoming game. I didn't want to say much more at the time. After all, the group in question had made no announcement of their own. Just a couple of hours ago at the time of writing, they've officially pulled back the curtain!

I can now confirm that the marvellous folks at DumpStatCharisma will start streaming their own Fifth Edition Fallout show! The first episode Of Fallout: King's Ransom airs on their twitch channel, May 1st at 5:30pm PST!



As a point of clarification, other than creating the Fifth Edition Fallout rules they'll be using and answering their questions about said rules, I'm not personally connected to the show. But I'm extremely proud that Fifth Edition Fallout resonated enough with the DumpStatCharisma crew that they've added it to their lineup. I'm very excited, and I can't wait to see what stories these guys tell with the aid of the rules I've written!

Make sure to follow/subscribe on twitch! You can also follow @dumpstatcha on twitter.

Can't wait to get a Fallout fix? Why not watch episode 1 of The Hunt For Spring-Heeled Jack?

Friday, 30 March 2018

5e Fallout: Sinister Shellfish and Lethal Lizards

After the successful first episode of my Fallout stream earlier this month, it seemed high time to get around to another update to the Fifth Edition Fallout rules. With this update, the PDF Sourcebook has reached 200 pages worth of content and is once again up to date with the wiki content (briefly more up to date in fact, until I add a few of the new beasts to the wiki).

New Monstrous Additions to Fifth Edition Fallout

This update completes the "Beasts" category of the bestiary and includes the following new creature statblocks:

Aquatic Beasts

  • Anglers
    • Angler (CR 3)
    • Glowing Angler (CR 6)
    • Venomous Angler (CR 8)
  • Fog Crawler
    • Fog Crawler (CR 5)
    • Glowing Fog Crawler (CR 7)
    • Skuling Fog Crawler (CR 8)
    • Pale Fog Crawler (10)
    • Enraged Fog Crawler (CR 11)
  • Ghoul Whales
    • Grey Ghoul Whale (CR 18)
    • Blue Ghoul Whale (CR 23)
  • Giant Catfish
    • Giant Catfish (CR 9)
  • Gulpers
    • Gulper Newt (CR 1/4)
    • Young Gulper (CR 1)
    • Gulper (CR 3)
    • Glowing Gulper (CR 7)
    • Gulper Devourer (CR 9)
  • Hermit Crab
    • Hermit Crab (CR 15)

Beasts

  • Bighorners
    • Bighorner Calf (CR 1/4)
    • Young Bighorner (CR 1)
    • Bighorner (CR 4)
    • Bighorner Bull (CR 5)
  • Brahmiluffs
    • Brahmiluff (CR 3)
  • Brahmin
    • Brahmin (CR 2)
    • Brahmin (CR 4)
  • Geckos
    • Young Gecko (CR 1/2)
    • Young Gecko Hunter (CR 1/2)
    • Gecko (CR 1)
    • Gecko Hunter (CR 2)
    • Young Golden Gecko (CR 2)
    • Golden Gecko (CR 4)
    • Young Gecko (CR 4)
    • Young Fire Gecko (CR 3)
    • Fire Gecko (CR 6)
    • Young Green Gecko (CR 5)
    • Green Gecko (CR 8)
    • Giant Green Gecko (CR 12)
  • Ghoulrillas
    • Ghoulrilla (CR 3)
    • Ghoulrilla King (CR 7)
  • Kangaroos
    • Horned Kangaroo (CR 2)
  • Pit Vipers
    • Pit Viper (CR 3)
  • Rad-Rats
    • Rad-Rat Pup (CR 0)
    • Mangy Rad-Rat Pup (CR 0)
    • Infected Rad-Rat Pup (CR 1/2)
    • Rad-Rat (CR 1/2)
    • Mangy Rad-Rat (CR 1)
    • Infected Rad-Rat (CR 3)
    • Plagued Rad-Rat (CR 5)

Night Stalkers

  • Young Night Stalker (CR 1/2)
  • Night Stalker (CR 3)
  • Night Stalker Den Mother (CR 6)

Other Updates

This update isn't just about monsters! In fact, quite a lot of new content has been added and a few corrections have been made. Changes are noted below:

Backgrounds

  • Caravanner background now grants Intimidation and Persuasion (changed from Perception and Survival).
  • Addition of Courier background.

Classes and Archetypes

  • Updated the "Hunter's Skills" variant for the Fighter's Monster Hunter archetype.

Proficiencies

  • Pip-Boy added to the tools list.

Equipment

  • Clarified that helmets are not required to wear a complete "armour set" (a set includes a chest piece and four limbs).
  • Since I recently added the Brotherhood and soon plan to add the Enclave, who have a few unique new power armour variants, I decided to take a close look at the power armour rules. The following additions and changes have been added to the text:
    • Two new power armours added: Advanced Power Armour Mk I and Advanced Power Armour Mk II.
    • Enclave Tesla and Hellfire Power Armour variants have been handled as Material Modifications that can be applied to each power armour piece—look for Hellfire Shielding and Tesla Redistribution System.
    • Rules for Power Armour have received a substantial overhaul, and now include:
      • An attacker may now choose which body slot to target with a critical hit, bypassing power armour if the slot is empty/has zero hit points.
      • Radiation damage bypasses power armour (making it more attractive in spite of its limitations to human foes), though sealed power armour can improve Rad Resist and Lead Plating can offer radiation resistance to the wearer.
      • A variant system for fully randomising damage to power armour
      • Two new conditions for substandard power armour: defective and busted.
      • Detailed rules for what happens when a piece of power armour runs out of hit points, with the possibility of being permanently destroyed or become defective/busteds.
    • Corrections to the Lead Plating, Titanium Plating, and Winterized Coating power armour modifications.
      • Titanium Plating and Winterized Coating now grant damage resistance to the specific piece of power armour that has the modification.
      • Lead Plating now grants radiation resistance against any attack that bypasses the specific piece of power armour that has the modification.
  • Corrected references to "lightning damage" within the equipment section to "electrical damage".
  • Added addiction DCs to chems.
  • Clarified number of modifications that can normally be applied to a melee weapon (one).

Rules

  • Added two diseases: Vault 81 Mole Rat Disease and Waste Plague.

GM Advice

  • Added section on NPCs, and Ammunition and Ammunition as Loot.

Additional Updates

  • The usual round of typographical and formatting fixes.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

5e: An interview with Lluis Abadias, co-creator and artist of the Retroverse setting.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Chris Lock (@snickelsox) and Lluis Abadias (@LluisAbadias), the two mad creatives who concocted the wild, 80s aesthetic Retroverse.

You can find my interview with Chris and catch up on what the Retroverse is and why you should be stoked for it here! Remember, the kickstarter will be going live on April 10th.

Player's Mix Cover © Lluis Abadias.

Here's what Lluis had to say about his involvement and his favourite parts of the Retroverse!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Chris mentioned that the Retroverse happened almost by accident?


LLUIS
I started on twitter a month before that, and I’d joined the D&D community on twitter. I was sharing my fantasy art and Chris started making up this flavour text and I really liked it. Then I reinstalled Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and thought it was a really cool aesthetic. I created some art inspired by that. My idea was to make posters based on this 80s aesthetic with lasers, neon, and such. I posted one on twitter and he really liked it and wrote some of his flavour text.

There were comments on the twitter saying “Hey, are you doing this?” I remember going to the Direct Messages part of twitter, opening a message, and thinking “should I tell him we should do it?” Then he messaged me to say “we should do this”! “Oh Okay. Perfect.”


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
It’s a great story. The D&D twitter community is awesome, and this is exactly the sort of thing that proves how awesome it is, with you guys meeting this way and something so cool coming out of it.

Chris mentioned when we talked that you are a big part of the ideas that go into the setting, and that you have a crazy ideas folder that he dips into for inspiration.


LLUIS
Sometimes, like when I’m drawing, I think about subraces, monsters, spells, places. I write it down and put it in a file in the shared folder we have for the Retroverse. Chris is actually very nice and tries to use everything even if it would be hard balancing it. I have no moderation - For example I might be suggesting a giant robot that shoots nuclear missiles, then think it’s hard to balance and we shouldn’t do it, but he’ll reply “maybe we can…”


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Your art style for this is really cool. I feel like your kickstarter will do really well just because it’s so eye-catching because of your art!


LLUIS
Thank you. I really hope that it’s appealing!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
What are your favourite ideas in the Retroverse?


LLUIS
The ones I’m most proud of are some of the subraces. For instance one of the races we have finished are the Ceran, a triceratops-people which are awesome. We also have styracosaurus and pachyrhinosaurus as subraces.


Ceran Glitch Hunter © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Chris talked about these guys, and that they can summon power from their ancestors which seems really cool.


LLUIS
They’re also not what they seem, because they look like gigantic barbarians but they’re actually pretty calm, slow, and thoughtful. Though because they are big, they can charge and headbutt you, and totally destroy you.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Are they your favourite because of the mechanics, because of the story, or because of the art you made?


LLUIS
They’re my favourite because I hadn’t drawn a triceratops since I was eleven years old when I was totally into dinosaurs. I liked to see how much better I’d gotten at it, and enjoyed the nostalgia.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
That’s kind of a perfect story. Chris was saying that he wanted to appeal to people’s nostalgia for things like playing with toys and children’s cartoons. The fact that the Ceran are your favourite thing precisely because of that kind of nostalgia is really fitting.

If you’re allowed to tell me, what are you working on now for the Retroverse?


LLUIS
I’ve been doing maps for the first wave of the playtest adventure. I’ve never done a map before, but I’m really proud of how they’re looking. You’ll see soon! And right now I’m doing magic items.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
What kind of items?


LLUIS
There are quite a lot of cloaks. I think Chris has a soft spot for capes and cloaks. But there are a lot of other cool and imaginative items like magic sunglasses. My favourite is the hairspray.


Neon Dragon © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Can you share what that does for the interview or is that protected information?


LLUIS
I’ll keep that quiet for now because I’m not sure it’ll be the final version. But it involves bonuses, as you might imagine.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
You guys have been working very hard on this. You’ve come so far in six months.


LLUIS
Actually, looking at it in perspective it’s amazing. On the first picture I drew for the Retroverse - it was actually called Dungeons & Dragons: Legends from the Retroverse - one of the comments was “when you are putting this together?” And we were like “we’re working on it, just give us, like, six months.” And it’s almost six months and we’re actually almost finished.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
It’s a pretty impressive timeline for a team of two. Your output doing all of the artwork for it is also very impressive. Most products of this nature would have a lot of artists involved.


LLUIS
Yeah, I don’t know how we’re managing to make it with just two people really.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Obviously you’re swamped right now, but if people would like to commission you as an artist, how can they reach you?


LLUIS
They can reach out to me on twitter, email me, or I have a patreon.


Player's Mix (Print Edition Mock-Up) © Lluis Abadias.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

5e: Product Announcements - Heroes of Song and Monstrous Monograph

Spilled Ale Studios has two new products for sale:

Heroes of Song




Dance to your own tune with this collection of six music-themed archetypes!

In the many worlds of D&D, words and music contain actual, exploitable power. Those in the know can harness these mysterious, ancient forces, drawing forth the magic of music to bring tangible change into the world around them.

Bards are the archetypal hero of song, but they aren’t the only heroes to tap into the raw power music. Heroes of Song introduces six new archetypes, two for the Bard class, and four which introduce the power of music to other classes!

Heroes of Songincludes the following archetypes:
  • The Battle Skald, a Barbarian Primal Path. Warrior-poets, battle skalds keep the verbal and musical histories of their people, and sing songs of victory in battle to ignite a fire in the hearts of their war band.
  • The College of Choristers, a Bard College. Giving themselves and their musical talent over to the service of the divine, choristers lead their congregation in worshipful song, and channel the power of their faith through their voice.
  • The College of Creation, a Bard College. Bards of this college comprehend the musical underpinnings of reality, and can use their music to channel and shape elemental forces.
  • The Clarion, a Warlock Patron. An insubstantial being of pure music that hops from creative to creative as their muse, inspiring frenzies of creation uncaring for its current host's physical needs nor health. A Clarion-pact warlock can summon a pact instrument whenever they wish, and can use their music to inspire changes in the mindsets of their audience.
  • The Warsinger, a Fighter Archetype. Warsingers learn bardic secrets, channeling music and magic as tools of war. In battle a warsinger is able to perform battle anthems to inspire their unit.
  • The Way of Splendid Song, a Monk Monastic Tradition. Sometimes known as Chanters, monks of this tradition learn mantras, activated by spending ki. While continuing to focus on reciting a mantra, the Chanter gains special strengths associated with the mantra being performed.


Monstrous Monograph: Monstrosities Vol. I




Monstrous Monograph is a growing collection of monsters with which Fifth Edition game masters can challenge their players.

Each volume of the Monstrous Monograph presents a handful of creatures of a given monster type. Grow your collection a few monsters at a time for far less than the price of your morning coffee!

Monstrous Monograph: Monstrosities Vol. I contains two monsters:

  • Ever wondered why the game has a hybrid part-owl part-bear, yet so few other animal mashups? The CR 2 Abominable Beast is the answer you never knew you needed! Really dozens of monsters in one, the Abominable Beast represents all manner of magical hybrid creatures created through magical experimentation or mishap. In addition to the features of its base statblock, you select two or more animal templates from which your unique Abominable Beast derives a number of other traits. Included beast templates are: Badger, Bear, Eagle, Horse, Octopus, Rhino, Scorpion, Shark, Spider, Tiger, Toad, and Wolf.
  • The CR 5 Amphisbaena is a venomous snake with a second head where its tail should be. Typically dwelling in deserts, amphisbaena have the unique hunting strategy of interlocking their fangs and curling into hoops that can roll rapidly down the dunes at their prey. After knocking a victim prone and coiling around their body to restrain them, both of the amphisbaena's heads proceed to inject powerful venom with their bites.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Fifth Edition Fallout News: Twitch Streams

Fifth Edition Fallout fans rejoice! In 8 days time I will be streaming a game.

I'm thinking about running a full campaign in the future, but it's a question of free time. I have to wrap up my current tabletop campaign first. For now, this is a one-off adventure featuring some of Fifth Edition Fallout's biggest fans! Although, while I say it's a one-off, I'm not expecting it to be concluded in a single session. There will likely be a second, possibly even a third.

I'm a bit nervous as this is my first time running an online game, let alone streaming. There's been a lot to learn, and there's a lot that could go wrong. But I think I'm ready to rise to the challenge and my players are investing a lot of energy into their characters (some of them are even talking about cosplaying!).

The Hunt for Spring-Heeled Jack

Five years ago a string of grisly killings rocked the settlements of The Smoke before the serial killer disappeared from the public eye. Some people thought—hoped, really—that Spring-heeled Jack was dead. But it seems he just left town for a while. When he returns and hurts someone they care for, six wastelanders take it upon themselves to track down Jack and finally end his murderous spree.


The Hunt For Spring-Heeled Jack


The adventure is set in my homebrewed vision of the Fallout universe's United Kingdom (you can learn a little about this setting, "Fall Britannia", on the Fifth Edition Fallout wiki).

The characters are 5th level and have been made using a combination of the Fifth Edition Fallout rules and the classes and archetypes in my product Wasteland Wanderers. The first episode airs on Friday 23rd March, at 8.30pm (GMT+0). You can watch it live at: twitch.tv/spilledalestudios.

I hope you can join us live, but if not the game should be available as Video on Demand for 14 days. I'll also be recording a copy to upload to youtube after the event.

Another Fifth Edition Fallout stream?

In related news I've been approached by a group of streamers who are interested in starting a Fifth Edition Fallout campaign within the next few months. It's very cool news but I have no details to give at this time, particularly since that interest may not turn into reality. Here's hoping it does! Cross your fingers!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

5e: An interview with Mike Myler, creator of Mists of Akuma: Imperial Matchmaker

In less than a week, the Imperial Matchmaker adventure path for D&D 5e will be kickstarting. I caught up with author Mike Myler to find out more about this intriguing adventure.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Tell us a little about yourself.


MIKE
I’m the resident RPG industry maverick, wheeling around as a full-time freelancer for the past half decade getting to work on core system books (N.O.W. releasing this summer for W.O.I.N. from EN World), a couple Pathfinder softcover credits for Paizo, and on Black Crusade’s Tome of Decay for Fantasy Flight Games. There are a litany of smaller publishers I work with as well but my primary focus is on my campaign settings (Mists of Akuma is my third and the one I have the easiest time writing). Most recently I was hired on as the editor for EN5ider which I think is the biggest D&D 5E content Patreon (or one of them, anyway).

I live in Pittsburgh with my wife and cats, and the vast majority of my time is spent working. If I could illustrate I would be a one-man book making machine, and I don’t charge people for anything that isn’t at least 30 or more pages—I believe in big books that drag us inside of them with so much awesome that we can’t get back out. www.mikemyler.com has information on all my settings, free PDFs for each, and then stuff I couldn’t sell if I wanted to but is good fun so I made it anyway like Hyper Score Marvel, the Unofficial Street Fighter D&D 5E PDF and Warhammer 40k D&D 5E Hack.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
We're talking today about your upcoming Kickstarter for Imperial Matchmaker, which will create new content compatible with your unique setting Mists of Akuma. Can you briefly describe the setting and what makes it special?


Imperial Matchmaker


MIKE
Yes!

FAST VERSION: An eastern fantasy noir steampunk campaign setting for D&D 5E funded on Kickstarter in 2016. Think Edo-era Japan + Ravenloft + Warhammer 40,000 or Afro Samurai + Onimusha + Sin City.

LESS BRIEF: After a century and a half of occupation Emperor Masuto Hitoshi leads a successful rebellion against the technologically advanced foreign invaders, restoring his family’s rule over the continent. Their aggressors across the Great Divide at the Edge of the World have gone silent and disappeared allowing for a decade of peace to usher in this new reign—but then the Mists of Akuma reappear. The supernatural haze chokes Soburin, corrupting those within its embrace until they are transformed into nearly-mindless adeddo-oni driven only by a ravenous hunger for flesh. To restore order he has made special government officers called bengoshi, able to deputize citizens as they see fit to undertake missions of import to protect the two dozen prefectures. Perhaps worst of all the technology that might yet save Soburin is as feared as the mystical haze for it sometimes rapidly ages objects turning them into tsukumogami, monsters with a disposition that matches their treatment while inanimate—which for war machines is rarely a good thing.

There’s also a ton of content in the campaign setting. 14 new races (and if you count subraces that goes up by 20 or so because of all the hengeyokai), archetypes for all classes (and we smart-designed around WotC’s obvious choices ahead of time so there’s a paladin samurai and wu-jen warlock you can check out in the free PDFs from the first Kickstarter, allowing for things like an Afro Samurai build), martial arts feats, two attributes that really solidify the world (Dignity and Haitoku or “fall from virtue”), a treasure trove of oni. The list goes on and there’s a video walkthrough of the (now unavailable) black and white print on YouTube (the core is available only in color now).

Ed the Bard has a summary I rather like: “The best way I can describe the feel of this game is as if Akira Kurosawa and Quentin Tarantino had a dark, edgy little baby that loaded itself up with steam-powered augmentations, vowed to become a mystical ninja, and assassinated people while shrouded by an evil fog. “


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
What are the inspirations of the Mists of Akuma setting?


MIKE
Obviously the games and such listed above were part of it, but they’re an extension of my longtime fascination with eastern culture. I studied some japanese history in college (Musui’s Story is a must-read if you want to know what samurai were really like), I’ve spent more than 10% of my years alive working in chinese restaurants (I am allergic to milk which isn’t a problem at most spots, and they never cared if my hair was blue or complained about my lip ring), and I became a strong adherent of eastern philosophy in my teens when I stumbled onto the Tao te Ching.

That’s the backdrop. One night after finishing some cyberpunk work I was thinking “what would have happened if Commodore Perry sailed into Edo Harbor and was repelled by badass magic?” and then it went from there. Around this time I was figuring things out with world building in a larger design sense, and for Veranthea Codex the key word (the design team’s North Star as it were) was “radical”, then Hypercorps 2099 had the (incredibly creative) “hyper”, so for Mists of Akuma I decided on “cool”. If you take it out of the book and just look at it entirely by itself, anything from the book should make you say “cool” or some derivative thereof. It felt really really good when I got the first proper print proof and I couldn’t stop looking around in it because I knew we’d hit the mark—and after all the work crowdfunding and art orders and editing and layout, you really don’t know for sure if it’s all going to come together just right until you’ve got it in your hands.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
What products are you funding with the Kickstarter, and does a potential backer need the Mists of Akuma campaign setting to make use of those products? If not, do the products contain advice for tying their content into other fantasy worlds?


MIKE
We are collecting funds to put together three books, none of which require the Mists of Akuma campaign setting (it’s encouraged and available in pledge levels but not at all required).

  • Imperial Matchmaker, a sandbox mega adventure set in the imperial capital of Sanbaoshi, taking characters from 4th to 10th level in a glorious hardcover book about intrigue, action, and all manner of duplicity.
  • Trade War, another hardcover but this time an adventure path for characters 3rd-10th level, collecting the existing 6 adventures in the setting (which you can get right now) but supplemented with extra material that ties all of the stories together into one grand plot.
  • Imperial Matchmaker: Guests, a softcover book collecting the 8 Mists of Akuma Iconics with builds from 4th up through 10th level. Each of these characters has something extra and are intended to be used as pregenerated PCs (with subplots woven into Imperial Matchmaker) but for groups that want their own characters there’s guidelines for how to include something unique and extra to stand out amongst the mercenaries crowding Sanbaoshi (or elsewhere if used for Trade War), in which case the GM can use the iconics as rivals for the party!

As for tying this content into other fantasy worlds Trade War is in a great spot, but that might be a touch difficult for Imperial Matchmaker. One continuous adventure centralized around the biggest remaining city in the world (as opposed to six smaller adventures each with their own locales) demands a great deal of dedication to setting details throughout. I can point you to the 1/6th of the Mists of Akuma campaign setting to ignore/remove to take the steampunk out of it (the prefectures that accept technology are on the corners of the world map for a reason!), but I’m not sure that’ll be possible with Imperial Matchmaker or (most of) the iconics.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Imperial Matchmaker is the main product in the Kickstarter - what can we expect from it in terms of themes and content? It sounds like it might be heavy on the intrigue?


MIKE
So much drama and intrigue and action and blood! I concocted and have been running it for the biggest contributor to the first Mists of Akuma Kickstarter—he asked for intrigue and when I found out he’s a theater professional I broke out the silver. There are 20 brides and grooms from the four clans still spiteful over the Battle of Broken Spears ages ago and the Emperor has decreed they be wed to bring an end to the feud. Opportunities fly at the party as bengoshi from all over Soburin seek to gain by protecting or sabotaging the events (or even worse), not to mention how the actual betrothed couples feel about their arranged marriages. It’s not all just the ceremonies though, and there are sidequests on top of the subplots for the iconics. To set the tone the prologue involves a public beheading during a tea ceremony and things go from there; I’m not sure what better thing I could possibly tell you. :)


An Imperial Decree.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Is there anything you can safely reveal about the plot?


MIKE
Hrnnnnnnnmmnhhaaarrg.

The first marriage ceremony is interrupted by kamikazes dropping out of the sky (from the hovercraft of Rogue Kengen General Freneza Genuilo) and blowing things up (the artwork for that scene is in the color stages as of this writing.)


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Can you talk a bit about the Kickstarter's funding levels, and are you planning any stretch goals?


MIKE
We are shooting for $8,130! More than half of that money is for cartography and illustrations, and then the rest goes to the design team and layout. There are plans for stretch goals but I’m not at liberty to reveal them just yet. They are juicy though, I’ll say that!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
You had a number of successful past Kickstarters, so people should be able to back without worries. What has made those Kickstarters successful, and what have you learned from them?


MIKE
I like to think so—I can’t stand the thought of not fulfilling the rewards of someone who gave me money to create one of my books. It would keep me up at night and drive me bonkers 24-7. Kickstarter is a constantly changing monster and what worked 4 years ago may not work tomorrow, so part of it is staying on top of the trends for crowdfunding. Part of it is budgeting things right and learning how to make an intriguing pitch that gets people interested. Follow through is obviously important (not just to me but to the folks that know I always make good on my promises, usually way over page count). Speaking of page count, I’ve learned to be very wary of accepting print orders during a Kickstarter because sometimes the ink and paper costs can change on you, costing a lot of money you did not anticipate needing—there are pledge levels for Imperial Matchmaker that include prints instead of at-cost print vouchers, but they are only at $250 and above.

I’ve learned to be thorough, stick with it, listen to your backers, and not to launch in December.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
When will potential backers be able to find your project on kickstarter?


MIKE
Monday March 19th!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
In the meantime, where can they go to find out more?


MIKE
The latest project update on the original Mists of Akuma Kickstarter page has a basic rundown of some of the iconics and a few more details. The best thing to do is follow me on Kickstarter or go to the Mists of Akuma Facebook page and make sure to sign up for the event so you get a notification exactly when it launches (I'm on twitter as well @mikemyler2).

Take a look at Kanden, one of the iconic characters provided with Imperial Matchmaker! You can also check out a video walkthrough of the Mists of Akuma core book.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

5e: An interview with Chris Lock, co-creator of the Retroverse setting.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a series of conversations with Chris Lock (@snickelsox) and Lluis Abadias (@LluisAbadias), the two creative minds behind the fascinating Retroverse, a truly original setting for the Fifth Edition of the D&D game. Today I’ll be sharing my interview with Chris!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Let’s start simple. Who are you?


CHRIS
My name is Chris Lock. I’m a dad - I have two kids. I work at a grocery store. I’m not terribly important. But I’m also the lead designer on the Retroverse, working closely with Lluis Abadias to make this awesome world.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
How did the Retroverse come about?


CHRIS
Through some happy accidents. I had just returned to twitter after an absence for personal reasons, when I came across some art by Lluis and retweeted it with some flavour text. He really enjoyed it, so I continued to do that with more of his art. Then he posted some art with a retro feel to it, a neon dragon, and I etched out a world over the course of two or three tweets. Then someone replied to ask “hey, are you making this? Is this something I could buy?” And I replied “uh… yeah, give me six months.” I messaged Lluis, and that’s how it started.


Lasers & Liches: Tales from the Retroverse © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
That's amazing.


CHRIS
Yeah, it's sort of silly.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
No, it’s cool! I see you tweeting out descriptions of art all the time. It’s very cool that’s something’s come about from that because of the artist responding to what you’re doing - and other people responding to what you’re doing.


CHRIS
Yeah. I’m trying to push out stuff that people can enjoy. A lot of people are very secretive with their story ideas. Maybe my brain is broken - I have ten billion ideas every second, and I’ll never use most of the ideas so I might as well throw them out there and let other people have fun with them. And artists love it. Maybe not all artists. But most of them love it when you take the work they’re already making and add cool stuff to it. When they know they’ve inspired you, it makes them feel good as an artist.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
We've been seeing a lot of the Retroverse on twitter. But what exactly is it?


CHRIS
That’s a question I get a lot and one I don’t know I’ll ever have a solid answer for. Do you remember Saturday? How cool Saturday was?


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
You mean the morning cartoons?


CHRIS
Yeah! You wake up in the morning and you don’t really have anything to do. You’re in your pyjamas and you watch cartoons and wrestling and you eat a bunch of sugary cereal. Then you play with some action figures for a while. It’s that only we’re making it a tabletop roleplaying game. One of the things I’m really trying to do is not step on creators. I want to let them have their own world. We are creating our own setting but that’s just one of ten thousand worlds that are part of the Retroverse. And we’re building it so that you can take any part of it and put it in your own world. The universe is one where it’s not that crazy that things intersect with all sorts of other realities.


Retroverse T-Rex © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Would you say that this is the ultimate sandbox setting?


CHRIS
I'm trying really hard to make it that way.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
It reminds me a little of the movie Wreck-it Ralph. That was obviously about games and the internet, but this idea of connected worlds which don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense together but somehow they’ve been thrown together and wound up making a cohesive whole.


CHRIS
How many times when you were a kid did you take all of your action figures and toys and throw them all into a world. Batman was hanging out with He-Man and sure it didn’t make any sense but it was still a lot of fun. That’s sort of what we’re going for.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Right. This hobby of ours is all about the imagination. Taking us back to that childhood sense of wonder couldn’t hurt, right?


CHRIS
Yeah! It’s not going to hurt anybody to have a little bit of childish fun again. And something that I’ve written into the first paragraph of the introduction is that the Rule of Cool is the only one that needs to be strictly adhered to. It’s all about having some fun, letting loose, getting weird. It doesn’t all have to be super serious.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
How long have you been working on this now?


CHRIS
A little under six months pretty much nonstop. I went from having about seven hours of sleep a night to about four. We’ve got a ton of stuff we’ve been working on for the first test wave to go out after the kickstarter.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
What's actually in the kickstarter?


CHRIS
We have two books we’re working on - the Player’s Mix and the Game Master’s Beats. The Player Mix is comparable to the Player’s Handbook that Wizards of the Coast released. It’s not going to be exactly that but it’ll have many similar things in it. Races, classes, a bunch of new magic, new feats, backgrounds, and gods. Player options and cool lore they can choose from. The Game Master’s Beats will have all the resources to help make your world more “retroversey”. It’ll have all the magic items and a bunch of monsters. If everything goes right it’ll feature a full campaign as well, around 8-10 adventures long.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
How many classes and races does the Retroverse have and can you briefly describe or hint at what they are?


CHRIS
If we’re fully funded and reach every stretch goal we’re shooting for 12 races and 10 new classes. Currently there are 6 classes done (though not tested). The Synthweaver, The Holo Knight, the De-Fragger, the Goreangyr, the Glitch Hunter, and the Code Warlock. All of those have bits and pieces of other classes that serve as either a backbone or window dressing. The Defragger is sort of Paladin-esque but doesn’t share the faith and religious traits and its abilities get away from the Paladin quite quickly. The Code Warlock has some abilities of a monk, like ki points, but as soon as you get passed that they’re not a monk any more. They have a lot of cool abilities that make them sort of like Neo and Goku mixed together.


De-Fragger © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Is it fair to say that you’ve built these classes around the chassis of the core classes to provide a sort of touchstone for players?


CHRIS
Yes, sort of. I want it to be very compatible with your basic material so you could have a Cleric and a Holo Knight in the same group in the same world and it would work, and nothing would be broken. As far as the races go some of them are fully fleshed out, some are just concepts at this point. Within the first test wave we’ll be releasing two test races and some new dragonborn variants based off the dragons that exist in the Retroverse. There’ll be the Wo'nari which are wolf-people that can shoot lasers out of their eyes, and the Ceran which are triceratops-like people that can summon power from their ancestors.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
That's pretty out there. Wolves with laser eyes is cool.


CHRIS
I thought so! It makes me happy that you think so.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
It seems like this would be a fantastic setting as a sort of palate cleanser between serious campaigns.


CHRIS
I can’t stress enough how bored I am of Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s a perfectly fine and acceptable way to do it, but it bores the heck out of me. Let’s get weird. Let’s have some fun!


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
I’m fascinated by the idea of Retroverse gods, so I want to come back to that. What sort of gods are we talking about?


CHRIS
There’s Paku Paku, the all-consuming god of Death. He is the feeling of hunger incarnate. He consumes stars at the edge of universe, slowly blotting out entire solar systems. It is told that one day he will make it to the centre and devour the last of the light. He is not malevolent, he just exists for one purpose - to consume. He has witnessed or caused the destruction of infinite worlds. In doing so he has absorbed all of the knowledge the inhabitants possessed. He will sometimes share that knowledge with his followers but it is almost always too much for them to handle. He can be driven back by the combined spirits of a devoured planet but this only ever temporary. Paku Paku will feed. Some sects of his faith profess the existence of a lover or child, their combined hunger being enough to eradicate all that ever was or will be.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
I’m sorry, have you turned Pac-Man into a Great Old One?


CHRIS
Er, yes… and no… Yes. But that’s the Retroverse. That’s what we’re doing right there.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
I feel like rather than write up this interview I should just say “Pac-Man is a Great Old One. Go kickstart this, it’s brilliant.” That alone sells it…


CHRIS
If you really think about Pac-Man what is he if not a Great Old One? If you take him just a little out of context… I mean, he can eat ghosts. What eats ghosts!?


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
You obviously must be enormously proud of everything you’ve created, but do you have a personal favourite thing?


CHRIS
You’re asking me to pick my favourite child, partner… Oh man. To be honest it changes depending on what I’m working on. But I suppose the thing that’s really stuck with me is the first class we built, the Holo Knight. They can summon holographic constructs of weapons and armour and they use illusion magic. They combine all of this stuff with some fighting prowess. They’re a super fun and versatile class and I don’t think there’s really anything out there quite like it. If I can say anything that makes me the most proud it’s probably that one. At the time I had just a page of notes written and that was the first thing that came out complete. I looked at it and thought “we can do this, I think we can actually make this happen”.


Holo Knight © Lluis Abadias.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Have you decided on price-points?


CHRIS
Nothing’s set in stone, but we’re shooting for somewhere around $25-30 for the PDF and $40-45 for print. Again, that’s not set in stone. Each of the two books will be well over 200 pages worth of new content.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Obviously it is a two-man team and you guys are probably being very careful with this kickstarter, but do you have any plans for stretch goals?


CHRIS
Most of the stretch goals are literally just to increase the amount of content in the books. I’m trying not to make anything where it’s like “yeah we’ll make a ton of posters, and t-shirts, and laser and liches branded slippers!” That’s not really what we want to do, it just muddies the waters of what we need to focus on. Nobody wants any lasers and liches slippers anyway.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
You might be surprised if you put it out there! But you’re probably better off not doing so. Okay. Have you thought beyond the kickstarter? Are there other sourcebooks or products you’d like to release for the Retroverse? Or indeed any other projects you want to pursue after the Retroverse?


CHRIS
I have thought a little about this and there are two answers. On a personal level I want to keep growing my streaming presence and grow it to where I can do it more regularly. If I can get away from my grocery store job then I can get to a place where I can spend a lot more time on the Retroverse stuff. Concerning the Retroverse, the only thing I’ve nailed down is that I’d really like to do a campaign that’s all about the Goreangyrs, which are a class that are like the power rangers. The campaign would be all about fighting big monsters and teaming up with your comrades and combining your robots.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
I think there'd be an audience for that.


CHRIS
Yeah, I’d like to think there’d be an audience for that. It’s pretty cool. I mean, it’s a little dumb, but who doesn’t want to be a power ranger?


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
I wish I could say that I don’t. But I think there’s probably a little part of me that kinda does.


CHRIS
Everybody kind of wants to be a power ranger. Just a little bit.


SPILLED ALE STUDIOS
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to explain why a potential fan needs to take a look at the Retroverse?


CHRIS
If you just want to have some fun and you’re a little tired of the sword and sorcery feel. If you want something that scratches that “Ready Player One” or “Power Rangers” or “Saturday” itch we’re going to do our best to make that for you. We know as well as you do that just throwing in a bunch of nostalgic references is not nearly enough to make something cool, so we’re doing our best to treat your memories with love and care. Please support us on Kickstarter coming April 10th.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

5e: DM's Day Sale

Hi all! Just a quick bulletin to note that a LOT of great products are currently discounted by 33% over on DM's Guild and DriveThruRPG for DM's Day!

Naturally this includes products by Spilled Ale Studios, which you can find at the following links:
  • Spilled Ale Studios on DM's Guild. Discounted products include Ashes of Evensong, Awesome Options: Signature Powers, Draconomicon: Dragonbound, Draconomicon: Gem Dragons, and Fantastic Familiars.
  • Spilled Ale Studios on DriveThruRPG. Discounted products include Races of Gallian: The Dremund, Races of Gallian: The Hobben, and Wasteland Wanderers.

The sale lasts until March 11th and is a great time to check out my products if you haven't already, or to take the plunge if you were on the fence. But it's also a fantastic time to look into the works of all the other amazing publishers on the OneBookShelf platform!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Play Paladins with Problems, Not Problem Paladins

Ask any given sample group of D&D/pathfinder players which character class they dislike the most, and there's a good chance the Paladin will be mentioned. This stems from the fact that Paladins are such an easy class to play badly, and many of us have one or more stories about a Paladin in the party that ruined the fun for everyone else.

Historically Paladins were required to be Lawful Good and had a strict code of conduct. Failure to adhere to that code could, at the DM's ruling, lead to the loss of the Paladin's powers. To avoid the risk of that, many Paladin players would be completely anal in the service of their Faith and alignment, leading to the creation of the term "Lawful Stupid". As a term, this is more disparaging than it is useful. It also assumes that the problems inherent to this sort of character are only present when a character's alignment is Lawful, which while quite likely, is not necessarily true. Let's use the term "Problem Paladin" instead, with the following definition:  a Problem Paladin is a character that sticks to their principles/code/religious tenets (often the absolute pursuit of their moral and ethical alignments) without any consideration for nuance or common sense.

Lawful Stupid
"Lawful Stupid"

When a paladin is not a Paladin

Okay, before I continue, I want to acknowledge that although this article is framed as advice for the players (and DMs) of members of the Paladin class, the points I'm making here can easily apply to a host of other characters. Because while "Paladin" may be a literal class in the D&D/Pathfinder games, the term "paladin" is an archetype—more generally, a "paladin" might be any character that serves some kind of higher power with loyalty and passion. That higher power could be a god or spiritual cause, as in the case of the Paladin class, or it could be something else: examples might include an individual, a bloodline, the throne of a nation (as opposed to whoever currently sits on it), a personal mission (such a quest for vengeance, peace, or anything in between), or even unusually high commitment to a personal code of honour.

Whenever a character (who may be of any class) serves a cause with fervour, possibly even fanaticism, then they are an example of the "paladin" archetype, and this article is about them too.

It's not all on the Players

Another quick sidebar: most of the advice in this article is directed towards the player of a paladin. But to all the DMs reading right now, this advice only works if you agree with it and are equally on board. I can make recommendations about how a nuanced paladin might be played until I'm blue in the face, but if you don't give the paladins in your party any leeway to make mistakes or bad choices without constant punishment, you reinforce the lesson that the paladin must be perfect, and perpetuate the issue of the Problem Paladin.

What actually is the Problem Paladin?

You might have a Problem Paladin in your party if you notice any of the following:
  • They always have to be right, and refuse to allow the possibility of compromise.
  • Every morally grey choice becomes an onerous argument with the paladin on one side and (usually) the entirety of the rest of the party on the other.
  • They actively prevent (or attempt to prevent) other characters from doing things that displease them.
  • The rest of the party actively attempt to keep the paladin out of the loop so they can get things done without the paladin blocking them.

At its least serious, Problem Paladin behaviour can derail a game and tie the party up in pointless arguments, usually repeatedly. A Problem Paladin might wants to punish every pickpocket, even when it would be a pain to turn them over to the authorities right now or their fellow party members are advocating mercy. They might refuse to release a prisoner taken during an adventure, even though it's impractical to deal with the logistics of having a prisoner alongside. Problem Paladins typically "win" every argument they get involved in, not necessarily because they are right, but because they are most stubborn. They expect the other characters to act in accordance with their beliefs, but won't offer their allies the same willingness to compromise.

At their worst, Problem Paladins bring harm or even death to other characters, not just themselves. A Problem Paladin might be so uncompromising against evil they attack the level 20 campaign villain, even though discretion would be the better part of valour. They might try and stop the party rogue from doing their job (and even threaten them with violence, jail time, or other repercussions), resulting in a divided party.

The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons has taken steps to ameliorate this problem. Alignment requirements are gone, and there are no longer strictly codified rules about what happens when a Paladin breaks their code. Like so much else, Fifth Edition leaves it up to the Dungeon Master to decide what happens. And this is why the first step to avoiding a Problem Paladin is the DM's to take. When running the game remember that Paladins aren't even required to be the ultimate boy scouts/girl guides any more.

Still, even if the rules and the DM are flexible, it's still easily to overplay a paladin-type. Concepts like "unyielding exemplar of justice" or "no one will stay me from my vengeance" might sound fun in theory, more fun than they're likely to be in practice.

Contention is Fun... Up to a Point



Party Conflict
"Party Conflict"

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm not advocating for all player characters in a campaign to be perfectly sympatico. Interpersonal drama between player characters is interesting. Characters should argue sometimes. But not all the time, about every minor thing. And they should be able to reach compromise... from both directions. The main thing DM and players all need to keep in mind is that regardless of any moral and ethical disagreements they may have throughout a campaign, a party of heroes needs to function. And when they do have a break down in communications, they should usually be able to solve the issue swiftly. If they can't get a single thing done without someone throwing a spanner in the works and digging in their heels then the question ought to be raised: why do these people continue to work together when they are so clearly incompatible?

If you look at your party and can't see a good reason why one or more characters wouldn't either be kicked out of the group or leave of their own volition, it's time to re-examine the social dynamics of that party. The players of such a dysfunctional party should consider making minor adjustments to how they play their characters to make them more open to compromise.

"Lawful Good" versus "lawful good"

I've already said it's not always the Lawful Good paladins, but it can't be avoided that they are likely to be the worst offenders here. Neutral, Chaotic, and Evil characters have more latitude. It can be harder to see how the Lawful Good character justifies making difficult choices.

I've talked before about my issues with D&D's alignment system, and one of the issues I raised is that there is no gradation between the extremes of a being that is the exemplar of its alignment, such as a Celestial, and the far more fallible nature of a mere mortal. You can see what I have to say on that subject by visiting The best things about 4th Edition that never should have been rolled back and scrolling down to the section titled "Alignment Simplification". You can also take a look at The Why and How of a Celestial Warlock for an illustration of how the unyielding Lawful Good can, in its own way, be quite harmful to mortals.

The point here is that celestials, devils, demons, and other outsiders from the aligned planes are the very avatar of their alignment. They simply cannot be any other way. Mortals occupy a space in the middle, and can choose who to be. But that freedom of choice is not a one-time deal. A mortal constantly chooses, in every moment, with every decision. And sometimes they choose differently to how you would expect.

One way to illustrate this key difference might be to capitalise the alignments of outsiders (eg. "Lawful Good") but treat the alignments of mortals as though they are lower case (eg. "lawful good"). The former represents an absolute. The latter is merely a strong pattern of behaviour.

As I put it in The Why and How of a Celestial Warlock, "Alignment Extremes of any kind are anathema to life as we know it". By the same token, alignment extremes in a player character can be anathema to the effective functioning of a player character party. The Paladin played as an extreme Lawful Good becomes "Lawful Stupid", and ends up being a Problem Paladin. A lower case lawful good Paladin is freer to make compromises, and take actions even when those actions leave them filled with doubt.

Imperfection is Interesting

As mentioned, the lower case lawful good Paladin acknowledges that there aren't always perfect answers. They are also prepared to accept that sometimes other characters have more expertise, and take what those experts have to say under advisement. They are willing to reach compromise when they cannot see a practical and better way forward.

They might feel that they have failed the tenets of their code when they have done so, and question their own commitment and faith. This is fine—actually, it's downright desirable. When a character fails to be perfect in their own estimation, they embark on an emotional and intellectual journey of self-reflection. It's good storytelling. I'm sure you enjoy reading about a character's personal demons in a novel or watching them go through these issues on screen. It's just as good in roleplaying, too. If you're playing a paladin-type who's as rigid as the stick up their rear end, ask yourself why you're trying to avoid these kinds of interesting personal developments.

Conflicting Loyalties

A paladin is most loyal to the higher authority they serve. But is that their only loyalty? Don't they also have family, friends, and maybe even additional causes that they come to value? Hopefully, the other player characters also count as friends, or the paladin at least feels some sort of mutual respect or sense of debt toward them.

When serving their higher cause conflicts with one or more secondary loyalties, it goes without saying that the paladin should lean towards the higher cause. If they were a perfect, unfeeling avatar of that cause they would do so one hundred percent of the time and without compunction. But that's the path of the Problem Paladin. The mortal, imperfect paladin weighs their options with more care. If the ideal interpretation of their tenets means rejecting the other bonds in the paladin's life, it makes sense that they would be more open to the idea of finding a third path. It's not always possible. Sometimes, after weighing those options, you'll find yourself deciding to have the paladin stand their ground, no matter the cost to them personally, the same way a Problem Paladin might. But there's a big difference—when the conflict your paladin feels comes out in your roleplay, you show a thought process beyond "I'm Perfect McPerfectson.", and your fellow players know they're not just being a stubborn ass.

Consequences of Failure or the Third Way

When paladins do choose to compromise, or even choose to go completely against the tenets of their belief system, should they suffer consequences?

The answer is "yes" and "no". There should always be some sort of roleplaying consequence. When a paladin makes a questionable choice, they should question it. The doubt they feel, and their reactions to the in-game consequences of the decision, are great material.

There's a tendency for DMs to be more punitive towards Paladins, Clerics and the like than towards members of other classes. When characters commit to belief systems, particularly when those beliefs are tied to all-powerful beings in the sky who can throw thunderbolts, it's tempting to dole out consequences for breaking faith. In truth, though, we DMs should be wary of giving these characters such a negative special treatment. Sure, it's appropriate for a deity or sovereign to show their displeasure, but it doesn't have to happen every time. Sometimes, the higher authority can recognise the need for the compromise and accept it as the best choice that could be made in the moment. Other times, they might simply encourage their servant to do better. When they are genuinely angry, it can usually be limited to a dressing down and metaphorical slap on the wrist. Steer away from stripping class powers away, or taking back story-based rewards. Usually, that is. Rarely, it's good storytelling material for a character to be stripped of titles, powers, or possessions. Sometimes, players pick classes like the Paladin partly because they are open to these sorts of hardships. Even so, it shouldn't happen very often, and there should generally be a way for the character to earn their way back into good graces.

It's worth remembering that the character's god or other patron knows they are mortal and fallible. They are also a precious resource. Some higher authorities are more forgiving than others, true, but it is generally bad practice to severely punish one's most loyal servants for lapses in judgement, or they may not remain loyal much longer.

Example Paladins



Okoye
Okoye, an archetypal Paladin

I polled twitter and asked for some example characters from popular culture. I got a large number of responses, and added a few of my own! Take a look at this list of wildly different characters, each of which fits the mold of the "paladin" archetype. At least one person out there thinks that each of the characters on this list has something to teach us about playing strongly characterised, interesting paladins. Note that few of them are without character flaws and/or complex relationships and conflicting loyalties. Some aren't even heroes!

  • Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel)
  • Aramis, Athos, D'Artagnan, and Porthos (The Three Musketeers)
  • Beric Dondarrion (Game of Thrones)
  • Boromire (The Lord of the Rings
  • Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones)
  • Brynden Tully/The Blackfish (Game of Thrones)
  • Captain Ahab (Moby Dick)
  • Captain America (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
  • Carrot Ironfoundersson (Discworld)
  • Eli (the Book of Eli)
  • Evelyn (Dice, Camera, Action)
  • George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life)
  • Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files)
  • Heden (PRIEST)
  • Horatio Hornblower (Hornblower)
  • Huma (Dragonlance)
  • Jim Gordon (Gotham)
  • John Hobbes (Fallen)
  • Kambei Shimada (Seven Samurai)
  • Lancelot (and other Knights of the Round Table)
  • Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)
  • Okoye (Marve Cinematic Universe)
  • Oliver Cromwell
  • Paksenarrion (The Deed of Paksenarrion)
  • Paragon Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
  • Saito Hajime (Rurouni Kenshin)
  • Sam Vimes (Discworld)
  • Shepherd Book (Firefly)
  • Steel Brightblade and Sturm Brightblade (Dragonlance)
  • T'Challa/Black Panther (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
  • The Doctor (Doctor Who)
  • The Operative (Serenity)
  • The Punisher (Marvel)
  • William Wallace (Braveheart)
  • Winston Churchill
  • Wyatt Earp (Tombstone)

Over to You

How do you like to round out your paladins? What are some of your paladin success stories? What characters or persons would you add to the above list of inspiration?